Well, it is the Garden State, even though you'd never know it if you're in the middle of a nightmare drive somewhere on I-95. But now, Gardens of the Garden State (Monacelli Press, 2014) will get you off 95 and into the dream world of the state's rich and diverse public and private gardens.
Authors Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry take you on a tour that extends from the flat coastal plain in southeastern New Jersey along the Atlantic Ocean to the sparsely populated hills in the northwestern part of the state.
The 28 gardens profiled in the book include a few owned or designed by famous garden luminaries: author Ken Druse; landscape architect Richard Hartlage; Mara Seibert & Lenore and Bob Rice of Seibert & Rice.
You'll discover a prairie garden in central west New Jersey inspired by the naturalistic designs of Noel Kingsbury and Dutch designer Piet Oudolf; Poodle Point, a garden of formal "rooms" on the banks of the Navesink River in Rumson; tiny Linwood Arboretum, a showcase for unusual plants selected by noted writer and plantsman Allen Lacy; and a French provincial boxwood garden (Jardin de Buis) in the Hunterdon Hills on the site of an abandoned dairy farm.
Many of these gardens are also quite historic. Bedminster, in Dunwalke East, was owned by diplomat and financier C. Douglas Dillon, who brought in the famed Innocenti and Webel to help with the landscape design. The new owners have worked hard to restore the classic "bones" that came with the property.
You'll also want to see the Leonard J. Buck Garden, which the authors say is "unquestionably the most beautiful place in New Jersey" in mid-April. Buck was a mining engineer, but also a plantsman and trustee of the NY Botanical Garden. Swiss landscape architect Zenon Schreiber, who had worked for the Rockefellers and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, helped him design the 50 acre spread in Far Hills.
The book is filled with the gorgeous photography of Gemma and Andrew Ingalls. My only regret about this wonderful book is that the publisher did not include an index -- or a list of when some of these gardens are open to the public. It would make a wonderful gift for anyone who likes gardens, classic or modern, 21st century or old world.